What happened: Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited the US yesterday and met with several senior US administration officials to discuss rehabilitation efforts in Gaza and the threat of Iran.
- In his meetings with US officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National security advisor Jake Sullivan, Gantz emphasised the need to consolidate a military option vis-à-vis Iran and increase oversight of Iran’s nuclear armament.
- Gantz said: “I’m looking forward to discuss, as we have discussed before, the challenges that we have with Iran, with the Palestinians. As far as Gaza concerned, we do look for stability and prosperity for everybody. And as defence minister, I think the combination between moving forward with reconstruction and making sure that everything stays secure – it’s very important for me.”
- Following his meeting with Sullivan, Gantz tweeted that the two discussed the “need to promote regional stability by halting Iranian aggressiveness, while strengthening the alliance of moderates, and protecting Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge”.
- Gantz also met with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon. In a joint statement, Gantz said: “Stopping Iran is certainly a shared strategic need of the US, Europe, the countries of the Middle East, and Israel, and, for the people of Iran as well. They too deserve a government that will devote itself to solving real problems, rather than with developing weapons of mass destruction to threaten other peoples.”
- Austin added: “”We are committed to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and ensuring that Israel can defend itself against regional threats, such as those posed by Iran, its proxies, and terrorist groups. The administration fully supports your country’s right to defend itself against rockets, rocket attacks fired indiscriminately by Hamas, and other Gaza-based militants against Israeli civilians.”.”
- Another purpose of the trip was to gain US financial support to replenish stocks of Tamir interceptors for the Iron Dome anti-missile system following the latest escalation with Hamas in Gaza, in which over 1,400 rockets headed toward Israeli towns and cities were intercepted.
Context: Defence Minister Gantz is leading Israel’s efforts in closed-door dialogue with the Biden administration with the aim of creating new understandings between Jerusalem and Washington over Iran and Gaza.
- Gantz made clear that efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire must include the return of two Israeli captives and two slain Israeli soldiers held by Hamas as a condition for Gaza’s rehabilitation.
- It was reported earlier this week that Israel provided a list of Hamas prisoners it was willing to release in exchange for its MIAs. However, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, is reportedly demanding the release of 1,111 prisoners, including those who are serving multiple life sentences for murdering Israelis.
- Israel also wants to introduce a new inspection mechanism with international support aimed at preventing Hamas from redirecting dual use materials toward rocket production and building new tunnels.
- Gantz’s visit comes after several mysterious explosion rocked Iran this week. On Wednesday a huge fire broke out at an oil refinery in the southern part of the Iranian capital, Tehran. The night before, its largest naval ship, the Kharg, caught fire and subsequently sank.
- Whilst Iran has blamed malfunctions as the causes for the fires, several Western media outlets have noted that Israel has carried out a dozen attacks on Iranian ships over the last several years, mostly ships transporting oil.
- Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held his first working meeting with new Mossad Director David Barnea. During his swearing in ceremony, Barnea said: “Our security challenges are very big and at the top of the list is Iran. “This needs to be said loudly and clearly: Iran is working, even at this very moment, to fulfil its nuclear dream under an international guise of protection.”
- Speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that if faced with a choice between relations with the US or neutralising Iran, “the elimination of the existential threat prevails”.
- The fifth round of indirect US-Iranian talks in Vienna to discuss returning to the JCPOA nuclear deal wrapped up on Wednesday. The UK, Germany and France – known as the E3 – said in a statement: “We have continued to make progress and important parts of a future deal have now been fleshed out, but the most difficult decisions lie ahead. We have of course worked based on the principle of nothing is agreed to (until) all is agreed.”
- Earlier in the week the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Rafael Grossi said he was “concerned that the technical discussions between the agency and Iran have not yielded the expected results,” The IAEA director-general wrote in a quarterly report: “After many months, Iran has not provided the necessary explanation for the presence of the nuclear material particles at any of the three locations where the Agency has conducted complementary accesses.”
Looking ahead: Egypt is leading international efforts to try and bring all the sides together to reach an agreement for a Gaza ceasefire and long-term plan for rehabilitation.
- However, Israel’s military is preparing for a return to fighting with Hamas if talks breakdown. August is the next date that Qatari money is scheduled to enter the Gaza Strip, and it remains unknown if Israel will block it until a ceasefire agreement is agreed.
- The European Union envoy coordinating talks In Vienna said this week that an agreement to return to the JCPOA nuclear deal could struck at the next round of talks starting next week. It appears the sides want to finalise talks before the Iranian presidential elections on 18 June.